Sifani recoiled as if struck. She stared at Lorin for a moment, and then her tongue sputtered words while her mind struggled to form the coherent thoughts to go with them. “Deities, creation…what’s the point of even discussing this? We know nothing. Nothing! No, don’t you dare contradict me, Lorin! All our information about our gods has come down the years by word of mouth. There’s not one, damn, crusty scrap of paper to confirm a jot of what we’ve been told!”
Lorin continued lying back on the bed, refusing to rise to the challenge. “You’ve accepted what you know about the Deities until now. Are you really going to change your mind because it turns out you might personally be caught up in it?”
Sifani felt primal anger stir in her breast. Leaning over until she was just a few inches from Lorin’s face, she dropped her voice to a growl. “That’s easy for you to say, isn’t it, Lorin? You act as if you know what I’m thinking, but what do you even know about me?”
Lorin scrunched his nose a few times, as if surprised she was invading his air, before answering. Infuriatingly, his demeanor remained perfectly calm. “I know that your view of the Deities is something you inherited from your parents, just like your Reehler bloodline. And I also know – may the heavens have mercy on me if I don’t know by now – that you can’t be bullied into believing anything.”
He sat up, forcing Sifani to straighten in turn, as she refused to withdraw from her threatening position in front of his face. “You always want answers, and reasons. So it’s only logical for me to wonder why you’re so afraid of answers and reasons now. Tell me, Sifani. There’s a missing piece here – a missing brick in this path that’s made it impossible for an outsider like me to cross. Are you going to tell me what it is now, or will you keep me prodding you and making wild guesses until we’re old and grey, with our feet hanging over the edge of our graves?”
Sifani realized Lorin had stood and backed her all the way up to the wall, one arm braced against it beside her shoulder, and the other planted on his hip. His dark eyes flashed with their spark of laughter, but she had no doubt about his seriousness. The two of them had kept each other’s pasts at arm’s length, out of respect. When one of them raised questions about the other, it was because questions were necessary.
Sifani held Lorin’s gaze for a moment longer than she was comfortable with, then wrenched them, and her body, away. “I only know what I grew up with, okay?” Her hair swung as she stalked as far from her partner as she could get, arms crossed, faced turned towards the wall. “My pa always told me that my mother was…a powerful Reehler. He said his talent was laughable compared to hers.”
Lorin studied her. She hated how his look made her writhe! “How powerful?”
“Who do you think I am – Antian?” She hissed at him over her shoulder. “Do you think I have a chart I can just slap her onto?” Immediately, she regretted her irritation, and thought about apologizing, as she often did. However, Lorin was already coming to stand closer to her, and she told herself she should save herself the embarrassment.
She amended her tone – it would have to be enough. “My pa said she was one of the most powerful Reehlers to have ever lived.”
“She died, then?” Lorin sounded vaguely uncomfortable, though likely only Sifani would be able tell. He was treading lightly.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t –?”
“I always assumed that that was the case, and it was what my father intended me to believe, I think. He never told me that explicitly, though.” Pa probably thought it would escape her notice, but it hadn’t. Sifani was his daughter, after all.
“And? Did your father tell you anything else?”
Sifani squeezed her eyes shut. The epheria. The only family heirloom she took with her when she went out into the world. She liked the idea of a simple life, but she loved the epheria more, and it had never led her to anything close to simplicity.
“He said that my mother had to leave us in order to protect other Reehlers from danger. He always did look…afraid when he said it.” It wasn’t the epheria that he thought dangerous, though, since he never stopped me from canvassing or reconstituting when he found out I had done it.
“Did anyone else know about your mother?”
“No one? Not even Ileniel?”
Sifani jerked in surprise. Ileniel. Stuffy, pious Ileniel, who had been friends with her father from the beginning. He had cared more than anyone she knew about the lost history of the Reehlers, and had spent much time in Pa’s company. It had always baffled Sifani that her pa, with his ready smile and infectious laughter, kept the scholar so near. Because of that, though, she had trusted him, enough to recruit him to their little research band when Jatan first took her under his wing.
Suddenly, it made so much sense.
“What is it, Sifani?”
“You’re brilliant, Lorin.” Sifani paused. “Soak that in now, because you won’t hear it again.”
Lorin bowed in mock gratefulness. “I expected nothing less, my milk-tempered maiden. Do you mind telling me why?”
“Because everyone knows I’m the brilliant one, you big lummox.”
“No – I meant, why am I brilliant?”
“Ileniel is the key.” Sifani suddenly began straightening her clothing, touching her hair and then checking her belt to make sure her knife was in place. It was a nervous habit she had when preparing for a large task. “It never surprised me that Ileniel jumped on the chance to be Jatan’s epheria researcher. He loved his work. Therefore, it was really surprising when he quit right after my disaster with the Head Counselor’s home. What would drive such a zealous, devoted scholar away from his work, into the shadow and isolation of a convent?”
Lorin turned to her in understanding, a slow, wide grinning spreading across his face. Deities, but it was a pretty grin. “It was fear. Real, profound fear.”
Sifani nodded earnestly. “Whatever my father knew about the danger my mother posed, maybe Ileniel knew it, too. Something about what happened at the Head Counselor’s home made him panic and flee.” She exhaled a long breath, gazing longingly at the still-curtained window. “Ileniel, suddenly, you can’t get here soon enough.”
Nodding in agreement, Lorin patted Sifani on the shoulder. “I should go. Namiss will use me for knife practice if she finds me here, invading her space.”
Sifani gave him a half-hearted smile for the humor. She let him walk a few steps away, then remembered something, and grabbed his arm. “Lorin.”
He looked over his shoulder at her, questioningly.
“Don’t tell anyone what I told you. At least, wait until we speak with Ileniel, and things become clearer.” She hoped he wouldn’t make light of this one request. She almost prayed he wouldn’t, though she might well be praying to someone who was trying to kill her. “Promise me you won’t.”
Lorin’s dark eyes bored into hers. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”
She watched his back, his broad shoulders, as he exited the room. Maybe he wasn’t always such a great buffoon, after all.